Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
I have no doubt that all of you excelled in all aspects of life at home and at school, so you might just have a little difficulty in sympathizing with a child who was, shall we say, young for his age.
In other words, he was thick in class, socially useless and a total disaster when it came to games, of pretty well any kind. Life was lived on the back foot, and definitely not in the fast lane, or on any kind of fast track.
As you see, there is no comparison to be had with Jesus, who grew up increasing in stature (ie He grew up), in wisdom (in His learning) and in favour with God (spiritual growth) and with men (He was comfortable to be with socially).
But Jesus also grew up in a family where the house was full of other, noisy and demanding children. His father was a builder/ furniture maker/repairer of all things wooden. He may even have made Jesus’ cross – or given the unwitting task to Jesus.
Jesus also grew up with a village schooling where to have all the answers was definitely not cool. He grew to manhood surrounded by hotheads who wanted to attack the Romans and by others who would sell them anything – even, or perhaps especially, their friends.
Jesus also knew all about the buzzing hormones of youth and adolescence. He knew about girls – and in this His story is gently but firmly veiled.
In other words, Jesus was already something of a man of the world when He came to the River Jordan for John’s baptism. He had already had a lifetime of testing and of striving, of being misunderstood and abused.
And now He presented Himself before God and before Israel in the place of repentance for the sin of the world. He who knew no sin was already identifying Himself with the sins of His people, of generations long dead and of those who had yet to be born.
In this sense Jesus began His ministry as He ended it: sinless yet taking on Himself the burden of its rejection of the things of God and its corruption of the ways of the world.
Rightly, John had resisted ministering the washing of repentance to Jesus, for he also had seen and understood that Jesus was sinless and should be administering this baptism and not receiving it.
But Jesus also insisted for this was to be the beginning of His real work. While His hidden years were a kind of existential ministry in which He underwent the temptations and frustrations or normal life, from now on He would have a public ministry in which He would go out of His way to speak of and live out the truths that He had come to proclaim.
The spectacular healings and other miracles would be welcome enough but His teaching would be suspect and His authority to forgive sins, raise the dead, restore outcasts would be socially dangerous. People get ASBOs for that kind of thing these days.
And here at the River Jordan, Jesus stepped into a flow but stepped out of a torrent. He stepped into the waters which had marked the boundary of the Promised Land and he stepped out into the power and release of the Holy Spirit who would empower Him and lead Him and even guide Him as He pursued the faithfulness of His calling, even to the hill of the cross.
What had marked off the promised land would also be the starting point of His ministry, and opening of a new land of hope.
Up to this point Jesus had been hidden, obedient to His parents and subject to the normal rules of society. Now He would live to fulfill and complete the rules He had lived under.
Rather than set them aside He would renew them as they had always been intended to be. Their form might remain but their content would be wholly restored to their original freshness and immediacy.
And it was here at the River Jordan that God would proclaim Jesus as His Son: who had done well in growing up within the constraints of village life in an occupied land.
Now He would go forth to show who and what He really was, and what had always been God’s purposes for Israel and for the world as a whole.
There is however another aspect. Jesus was circumcised and named by His parents when He was a baby, but He at His baptism came into His own identity and ministry in the sight of God.
But so we also, most of us having been baptized as infants, need to reassert our commitment to the life and ministries that God intended for us. Some may have done this when confirmed by the bishop when younger.
But all need also to be renewed in the Spirit of God for the times ahead of us as we offer ourselves for His service. It may mean letting go of some things. It may mean giving more time to prayer or study or service or to the total self-giving of love.
But whatever it is, as we offer ourselves as empty vessels, then God will surely meet us and fill us according to His desire for us, and not according to our own sense of worth or weakness.
Jesus had come to the River Jordan as a man and left as a Saviour. But He still looks to us to follow in His steps, and to come to that river where we may be renewed in His service.